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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XIII

Article XIII: Stewardship

God is the source of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; all that we have and are we owe to Him. Christians have a spiritual debtorship to the whole world, a holy trusteeship in the gospel, and a binding stewardship in their possessions. They are therefore under obligation to serve Him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these as entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others. According to the Scriptures, Christians should contribute of their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of the Redeemer's cause on earth.

Unifying Principles of Article XIII
The Baptist Faith & Message’s statement on stewardship has no areas of disagreement among Southern Baptists according to my understanding.  Therefore, only a short response is required.  We all agree that God is the Giver of “all blessings, temporal and spiritual.”  We agree that “all that we have and are we owe to Him,” which is directly connected to our understanding of God as provident and gracious.  We all agree that we have been entrusted with the treasure of the gospel and with material possessions as well for “the glory of God and for helping others.”  While we may sometimes disagree how cooperative funds would best be used, we all agree that they would be used for the building of the kingdom of God through world missions and education.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article XII

Article XII: Education
Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. All sound learning is, therefore, a part of our Christian heritage. The new birth opens all human faculties and creates a thirst for knowledge. Moreover, the cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence, and should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches. An adequate system of Christian education is necessary to a complete spiritual program for Christ's people.

In Christian education there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility. Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute. The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college, or seminary is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.


Unifying Principles of Article XII
One of the distinguishing marks of being a Southern Baptist has been the emphasis placed on the necessity of Christian education.  The Baptist Faith and Message puts forth a clearly unified statement on the importance of education and its co-ordinated connection with “missions and general benevolence.”

Here I would like to offer to disclaimers for Southern Baptists.  One, we are right to emphasize Christian education in our churches, theological schools, and missions, but we must be sure that these educational pursuits are hinged with lots of accountability.  It’s easy to assume that people are being educated in the ways of the Lord when they’re not.  Two, we are right to ask churches for their “liberal support,” but not for the sole purpose of pouring multi-billion dollars into the building of elaborate American church/seminary facilities when simple facilities will do just fine and when Christians in foreign lands are in such great need of assistance.

Despite any disagreement with these disclaimers, Southern Baptists agree that Christian education is crucial for the edification of the church of God.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: ArticleXI

Article XI.:  Evangelism and Missions
It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man's spirit by God's Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.


Unifying Principles of Article XI.
One of the reasons that I am most proud to be a part of the SBC is the fact that we are a “go and tell” denomination. The Baptist Faith & Message reminds us of this with its statement on evangelism and missions. I praise God that Southern Baptists are unified on this great “duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ.” No matter our varying theological stripes, we are united by our “love for others” as imparted by the Holy Spirit. While our methodologies may vary, the BF & M allows for this among Southern Baptists by stating that evangelism ought to be pursued “by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.”

Here we must make an especially heartfelt cry for unification. There are some in our denomination that accuse their fellow Southern Baptists who have a more Reformed understanding of salvation of not “believing in evangelism” or not being “passionate about evangelism” or even “refusing to evangelize.”  The fact remains, that as long as a Southern Baptists can conscientiously sign the BF & M, then they are affirming their commitment to our Lord’s command to preach the gospel to all the nations.

Therefore, we must refrain from spouting such slanderous accusations against our fellow brothers in Christ.  The reality is that all of us could use an extra unction of God’s Spirit for the purpose of personal evangelism and missions.  In the end, this accusation is nothing more than a straw man designed to tear down another for three main reasons: to promote one’s own theological understanding, to boast of one's own evangelistic pursuits, or to shift attention away from one’s own evangelistic negligence.  With any of these, pride is the culprit.  Let us humble ourselves before the LORD our God, think the best of our fellow believers in Christ, and link arm to arm in the preaching of the gospel!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article X

Article X.:  Last Things
God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.

Unifying Principles from Article X.
If there were no other doctrine in the Baptist Faith & Message to prove that Southern Baptists are doctrinally unified on the whole, the BF & M’s statement on the doctrine of eschatology would be sufficient.  There is no particular eschatological view being touted here, although the wording would be more akin to what a post-tribulation, historic premillennialist would say.

All Southern Baptists agree that God will bring an end to the world as we know it “in His own time and in His own way,” despite what false teachers like Harold Camping say.  All agree that Jesus will deliver His chosen bride from the wrath of God to come and perfect judgment will be meted out.  The “unrighteous will be consigned to Hell” and the “righteous . . . will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.”

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article IX.

Article IX.: The Kingdom
The Kingdom of God includes both His general sovereignty over the universe and His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King. Particularly the Kingdom is the realm of salvation into which men enter by trustful, childlike commitment to Jesus Christ. Christians ought to pray and to labor that the Kingdom may come and God's will be done on earth. The full consummation of the Kingdom awaits the return of Jesus Christ and the end of this age.

Unifying Principles from Article IX.
Regarding the doctrine of God’s Kingdom, there is no major disagreement within the SBC.  All Southern Baptists agree that God is reigning sovereignly over the universe, including “His particular kingship over men who willfully acknowledge Him as King.”  The exact outworking of God’s sovereignty may be disputed, but we all agree that God is sovereign.  Further, all Southern Baptists agree that God’s Kingdom includes both the “realm of salvation” and the awaited “full consummation” of His Kingdom at which time God’s will “will be done on earth.”

Once again, the BF & M frees Southern Baptists from trivial doctrinal disagreements for the purpose of unification around the building of God’s kingdom through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article VIII

Article VIII.:  The Lord’s Day
The first day of the week is the Lord's Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should include exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private. Activities on the Lord's Day should be commensurate with the Christian's conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Unifying Principles from Article VIII.
The doctrine of the Lord’s Day can involve some disagreement among Southern Baptists.  Some would like the wording from the BF & M 1963 reinstated that includes phrases denoting activities to avoid on the Lord’s Day.  The former statement said that the Lord’s Day ought to be observed “by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, works of necessity and mercy only being excepted.”

Interestingly, Southern Baptists from a variety of theological understandings argue that the 1963 wording was best, while other Southern Baptists from those same varieties of theological understandings argue that the 2000 wording was a needed change. It appears, however, that the BF & M has maintained a delicate balance between the two more opposing views by catering to both.  Here is a great example in which a local church ought to draw up an additional statement of belief  that will be “commensurate with the Christian’s conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

The unifying principle remains the same despite minor disagreement, which is Southern Baptists agree that the Lord’s Day ought to be observed regularly for the remembrance and worship of our great Savior, Jesus Christ.  Further, I would conclude that all Southern Baptists agree that Jesus is not only Lord of the Sabbath, but He is also Lord of the Lord’s Day.  If we can conscientiously sign the BF & M with its statement on the Lord’s Day, then we are welcome under the umbrella of the SBC.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article VII

Article VII: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.
The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.

Unifying Principles from Article VII
Again, the Baptist Faith & Message has established a unifying statement for Southern Baptists to embrace.  All Southern Baptist agree that baptism is the post-salvation immersion of a believer that is symbolic of the believer’s faith, death to sin, and his having been raised to walk in the righteousness of Christ Jesus.  If churches and individuals can conscientiously sign the BF & M, then they are saying that they agree with this doctrine.  They agree that baptism is scripturally administered post-salvation.  This is important for today because there are some in the SBC who have suggested that Southern Baptists who hold to a more Reformed understanding of soteriology are toying with paedo-baptism (baptism of babies). Regarding this issue, I would like to make three statements.

First, we must understand that a person’s consideration (study of the practice) of baby-baptism is far different than their believing it, teaching it, or actually performing it.  Second, we must understand that a person who is teaching baby-baptism and performing it is no longer signing the BF & M in good faith, and therefore should remove themselves from the SBC.  Third, we must understand that it is unlikely that someone who has adopted the practice of paedo-baptism would bother to remain in a denomination that is whole-heartedly committed to believer baptism. Therefore, it is unkind and slanderous to suggest that a Baptist who is adhering to a Reformed understanding of salvation is threatening the entire SBC with paedo-baptism.  The fact remains that one of the major defining marks of being a Baptist is post-conversion, believer baptism.

Regarding the Lord’s Supper, all Southern Baptists agree that this is a “symbolic act of obedience” for the purpose of remembering the death of Christ and encouraging us to await His second coming with joyful expectation.

Having reviewed Article VII, we can again declare that the BF & M is a unifying document for those that can conscientiously sign it.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article VI

Article VI:  The Church
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.

Unifying Principles from Article VI
Historically, Baptist have been strong on their view of the local church, and the statement made in the Baptist Faith & Message confirms this for Southern Baptists.  The unifying principles abound from article VI.  We all agree that the church is founded upon the New Covenant in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We all agree that the church is an “autonomous local congregation of baptized believers.”  We all agree the membership in the church is “by covenant in faith and fellowship in the gospel.”  We all agree that there are only two ordinances (baptism and communion).  We all agree that the church is to be operated “under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.”  We all agree that the two “scriptural offices are pastors and deacons,” though we’ll need to address this one further.  And we all agree that the office of pastor is to be “limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

There are, however two areas in which we need to clarify the doctrine of the church.  In the area of local church autonomy, we must remember that this means that local churches “have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.” (BF &M, The Preamble).  Therefore, the SBC has a right to hold the local churches accountable on doctrine and practice only so far as the BF & M demands.  This means that local churches will be similar in many ways, but not uniform.  So, we must be careful not to confuse the denomination with the local church, which leads to a second area in need of clarification.

While we all agree that the scriptural offices of the church are pastors and deacons, we must give the local church some freedom to work out their understandings of Scripture.  Please note that the biblical terms of elder/overseer/pastor each refer to one office and that the term elder is used far more than the others in the New Testament.  I have chosen to use the more familiar words to Baptists of pastor and elder.  The following models must be given a hearing in the SBC because each one is firmly congregational, even though we may disagree on the biblical accuracy of one or more (this is not necessarily an exhaustive lists since a number of variations of these can play out in a local church):

  1. Pastor/Elder-ruled:  Some churches have chosen this model in which the pastor/elder is held accountable by the congregation, but he makes the majority of decisions on behalf of the church.

  2. Pastor/Elder-led:  Some churches have chosen this model in which the pastor makes some independent decisions but is held accountable by the congregation, which has ultimate decision-making responsibilities.

  3. Pastor & Deacon-led:  Some churches have chosen this model in which the pastor/elder is held accountable directly by the deacons, and both the pastor/elder and deacons make some independent decisions but are held accountable by the congregation, which has ultimate decision-making responsibilities.  This appears to be the dominant model in the SBC at this time.

  4. Pastors/Elders-led:  Some churches have chosen this model in which a plurality of pastors/elders make some independent decisions but are held accountable by the congregation, which has ultimate decision-making responsibilities.


Out of these three, it is my understanding of Scripture that only models 2 and 4 are biblically validated, but within the boundaries laid out by the BF & M, each of these is permissible at the local church level.  Notice that I have excluded the elder-ruled model because accountability to the congregation is lessened to such a degree that one would be hard-pressed to prove that it is Baptistic as opposed to Presbyterian.

Despite what some Southern Baptists are saying, each of these models maintains congregational-rule, and we pray each of them is ultimately Christ-ruled.  No matter the model of congregational church polity adopted, there is no reason that we cannot be unified as Southern Baptists.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article V

Article V:  God’s Purpose of Grace
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

Unifying Principles from Article V
The doctrine of election may be the most debated doctrine in the Baptist Faith & Message.  The debate usually revolves around one’s precise understanding of the doctrine, specifically whether one should view election as unconditional or conditional.  The purpose of The Ephesians 4 Project, however, is not to resolve this longstanding argument but to demonstrate that the Baptist Faith & Message’s statement on election is thorough enough for Southern Baptist’s holding to either unconditional or conditional election to agree to disagree, which in fact we have been doing for all of our existence as a denomination to one degree or another.

First, we need to define the terms unconditional and conditional election.  While there may be some Baptists that have found their way to a seemingly tenable “middle of the road” view of election, these two terms represent where the majority of Baptists have landed.  The following definitions themselves may not satisfy every sector of Southern Baptist life, but they are accurate enough for us to carry on an honest conversation in this article.

Unconditional election is an act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but solely because of His sovereign good pleasure.  Conditional election is an act of God before creation in which He chooses people whom He foresees responding positively to God’s offer of salvation.  In a nutshell, proponents of conditional election assert that God’s election is conditioned by man’s faith, that is God makes His elective decision based on man’s decision.  Proponents of unconditional election assert that God’s election is unconditioned, that is nothing outside of God affects His elective decision but is simply God’s sovereign choice.

We can see immediately why this can be such a controversial issue, but we must fight the temptation to be lured into a divisive debate.  In order to avoid uncooperative attitudes among Southern Baptists, let’s focus on what unifies us from the BF & M’s wording:

  1. Election is based on God’s “gracious purpose.”

  2. Election produces regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification in believing sinners.

  3. Election in no way violates man’s free agency.

  4. Election in no way nullifies the means to the end of salvation such as evangelism, preaching, prayer.

  5. Election is all about “the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness."

  6. Election is “infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable,” and as such believers have no room for boasting.

  7. Election affirms the perseverance of the saints because God has accepted believers in Christ who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.


As long as Southern Baptists agree that God is sovereign in salvation yet man has real opportunities to turn to God for salvation, let’s be unified and preach the gospel together.  The fact remains that the doctrine of election should be a cause of rejoicing in God’s grace rather than in any effort put forth by man.  Further, the fact remains that no matter one’s view of election, no one can or will be saved unless we proclaim the gospel to unbelievers (Rom. 10:14-17) and that anyone who genuinely wants to be saved can and will be saved by trusting Christ (Jn. 3: 14-16; Rom. 10:8-13).  May God unify the SBC around Article V of the BF & M.

 For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article IV

Article IV: Salvation
Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

A.  Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.”

B.  Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.

C.  Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life.

D.  Glorificationis the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.

Unifying Principles from Article IV
Here is where some disagreement, or at least potential disagreement, can rise up among Southern Baptists, but controversy over the doctrine of salvation should not surprise us.  I am convinced that battling spiritual darkness (Eph. 6:12) is no greater than in the arena of soteriology because Satan knows that it’s the difference between eternal life and death.  The fact is that the Bible is replete with examples of God’s people contending for the faith.  From the showdown with Baal’s prophets on Mt. Carmel to Paul’s defense of the gospel against Jewish legalism in Galatia, salvation has always been controversial.  Despite this fact, I believe that Southern Baptists should be united by the biblical foundation that has been established through the unifying principles set forth in the Baptist Faith & Message.  While not exhaustive, the following are some of the more critical principles that unify us within the SBC.

The opening statement of Article IV on the doctrine of salvation is solidly orthodox.  As such, Southern Baptist should be unified here, and I believe that we are for the most part.  We agree that God redeems “the whole man” by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, “who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.”   This is well-balanced for Southern Baptists of various theological stripes.  It confirms that salvation is offered to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, while acknowledging that eternal redemption was paid only for believers.

Regarding sections A-D, each section demonstrates that Southern Baptists ought to be unified on salvation as a gracious gift of God.  The statement on regeneration can be affirmed by Baptists of varying theological stripes because it includes both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.  God sovereignly regenerates believers through “a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit” who convicts the sinner of sin.  The regenerated man responds to this work “in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Further, God sovereignly and graciously grants the regenerated man repentance and faith as “inseparable experiences of grace”

The statement on justification can be affirmed by Baptists of varying theological stripes because it roots justification in the grace of God that affects the “full acquittal” of every believer based on God's righteousness.  Thus, man has no righteousness of his own to add to the justifying act of God.  Further, the statements on sanctification and glorification can be affirmed by Baptists of varying theological stripes because each one affirms the doctrine of eternal security, or perseverance of the saints.

We may disagree on how the specifics of A-D work themselves out in God’s plan of salvation, but we agree that each of these understandings of Scripture is crucial for defending the true gospel.  Anything less than what the BF & M has stated regarding soteriology would relegate salvation to a work of man rather than the supreme work of God in human history.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article III

Article III: Man
Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God's creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.

Unifying Principles from Article III
The BF & M again presents a unifying statement of doctrine.  Southern Baptists can easily affirm that man is a special creation of God who has sinned against God and now stands in need of salvation.

There is, however, the potential for disagreement in one area of the BF & M’s wording of the doctrine of man in the phrase that man “fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. . . . as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. (italics added).  There are some Southern Baptists that would rather this section read more affirmatively of total depravity.  Total depravity is the doctrine that represents the understanding that man is born with original sin, that is an inherited sin-nature from Adam.  Total depravity does not mean that man is as sinful as he could be, but that sin has corrupted every aspect of man: including the body, mind, and will.  Proponents of this understanding would likely prefer that the BF & M read something like, “his [man’s] posterity inherit a nature and environment corrupted by sin.” 

Even so, Baptists of all theological stripes agree that man has a depraved nature in need of regeneration, confirmed with the BF & M’s statement, “Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God.”  While some may disagree over some of the nuisances of this doctrine, Southern Baptists actually agree on more than they do not, and this is where an autonomous congregation’s use of their own doctrinal statement can be helpful as they hammer out differences in interpretations.

No matter our varying theological stripes, the gospel message will be proclaimed the same by Baptists that agree that man has a serious problem with sin and is in need of God’s redeeming grace and love.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: Article II

Article II: God
There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.

A.  God the Father:  God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.

B.  God the Son:  Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.

C.  God the Holy Spirit:  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ. He enlightens and empowers the believer and the church in worship, evangelism, and service.

Unifying Principles from Article II
The BF & M is firmly orthodox in its statement of who God is and how God has eternally existed in the three persons of the Trinity.  Regarding God the Father, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that God is reigning “with providential care” over all things in accordance with “the purposes of His grace” and that God is all powerful in His knowledge, love, and wisdom.  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that God is sovereign over all things, though we may disagree on how that works itself out.

Regarding God the Son, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that Christ was the righteous servant who died to redeem sinners from spiritual death and was raised from the dead as the first fruit of eternal life for whosoever believes in Him.  Further, Baptists with varying theological stripes agree that Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God the Father and “will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission.”  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that Jesus is the only hope for man's salvation but only those who believe on Jesus will be saved.  Further, all Southern Baptist can agree that Jesus will return one day, though we may disagree on the details of His return.

Regarding God the Holy Spirit, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Scriptures, and He illuminates the Scriptures so that men may understand the truth contained within God’s word.  Further, Baptists of varying theological stripes agree that the Holy Spirit convicts sinners of sin, calls men to the Saviour, effects regeneration, justifies believers, and then sanctifies them.  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that the Holy Spirit is the author and illuminator of Scripture who effects regeneration in the hearts of men, though we may disagree on the details of His operation.

No matter our slight variations in our theological understanding, the gospel message will be proclaimed the same among Baptists that agree that God is the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of all things, who is indeed holy and requires holiness from humanity, and who is one God in essence expressed in three co-equal persons. 

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: The Preamble and Article I.

The Preamble
From the very outset of the Baptist Faith & Message, 2000, we see that this is a document written for the express purpose of unifying Southern Baptists under core theological and methodological issues while leaving plenty of room for diversity.  In The Preamble of the BF & M, it is especially important to note the inclusion of the 1925 committee’s five-pronged disclaimer regarding “the historic Baptist conception of the nature and function of confessions of faith in religious and denominational life . . . . ,” which I will cite here:

(1)  That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

(2)  That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.

(3)  That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.

(4)  That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.

(5) That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.

Unifying Principles from The Preamble
The primary unifying principle found in The Preamble is the fact that the BF & M stands as a “consensus of opinion” document for the purpose of unity rather than uniformity.  Since the purpose of the BF & M is to “constitute a consensus of opinion” that should not be regarded as containing “complete statements of our faith,” we can confidently affirm that every church that is conscientiously able to sign the BF & M easily fits underneath the SBC umbrella.

Further, since the BF & M permits “any group of Baptists . . . to draw up for themselves” their own confession of faith, we can confidently affirm again that every church that is conscientiously able to sign the BF & M easily fits within the SBC.

Finally, since the BF & M asserts “that the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” and that documents such as the BF & M should “not be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life,” we can confidently affirm once again that every church that is conscientiously able to sign the BF & M easily fits within the fellowship of the SBC.

Article I: The Scriptures
The BF & M states the SBC’s affirmation of Scripture succinctly: The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Unifying Principles from Article I
In today’s SBC, there does not appear to be any significant controversy over the nature of Scripture, quite unlike the situation in the convention from the 1960s-1990s.  It seems that we are completely unified around the belief that the Bible is completely inspired, inerrant, and infallible, and that it is our final authority as a denomination and as autonomous local churches.

No matter our varying theological stripes, the gospel message should be proclaimed the same among those that can conscientiously sign the BF & M and agree that the Word of God is the Word of God.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity

If I've learned nothing else from thirteen years of ministry, this one thing I have learned: spiritual warfare is very real and very dangerous.  The Apostle Paul wasn't kidding when he wrote, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph.6:12).  While this spiritual reality is not surprising, I can't help but be disturbed by the combative mood of some within our Southern Baptist Convention of late.  Yet, I’m praying this combativeness will not win the day because God has called us to one gospel that unites us as brothers in Christ against a common spiritual enemy.

I wish that I could say that this combative trend is the abnorm rather than the norm, but I can't.  It seems that the SBC has had a long history of fighting.  Now don't get me wrong, there are many fights worth fighting, and the SBC has fought some battles that were of biblical necessity, the foremost in our minds being the Conservative Resurgence that stretched from the late 1960s practically to the early 1990s.  That lengthy and needful battle was primarily about the authority of the Bible, and we praise God that He upheld His Word and glorified Himself by protecting the SBC from diabolical liberalism.

In some sense, however, it seems that the fight over the authority of Scripture has progressed to its next logical step.  Now that we’ve all agreed that the Bible is completely reliable and authoritative, frayed factions have redrawn the battle lines.  The lines no longer encircle the text of Scripture only but now the theology derived from it as well.  If the drawing of theological lines were not difficult enough, we also have mud flying over various missional methodologies, including divergence regarding the general direction of the SBC in the task of world missions.

Here's the question that I’m seeking to answer.  How different can our doctrine and practice be and we still be united under the banner of the SBC?  While that may seem like a daunting question, I believe there is both a conservatively theological and practical answer.  For me, the answer rests squarely on the Baptist Faith & Message and our willingness to cooperate within its parameters as a unifying document.

It is my conviction that if Southern Baptists would be genuinely unified under the BF & M, then most of the doctrinal arguments and many of the methodological arguments would be sufficiently resolved.  Now don't misinterpret what I'm saying.  I'm not saying that it will all be "pie in the sky."  But I do believe that unity around our statement of belief is sufficient to debunk much of the vitriolic speech occurring between fellow Christians in the SBC.  The fact is, we agree upon far more than we disagree, both in our theologies and methodologies.  The purpose of the BF & M is to unite like-minded, but not identically-minded, Baptists in the cause of the Great Commission of going to the nations, making disciples, and teaching them to observe our Lord's commandments.

In light of the aforementioned issues, I plan to write an eighteen part blog series, one for every article of belief in the BF & M, 2000 that I hope to publish over the course of the next four weeks.  The title, The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity, comes from Paul’s call for unity to the Ephesian believers, as found in Ephesians 4:1-8 particularly and 4:9-16 by extension.  Verse 3, perhaps, should serve as our theme:

Ephesians 4:3—“[Be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

The purpose of this series is to seek unity among Southern Baptists around the fact that our doctrine is mostly uniform, though our practice may be less so.   It seeks to highlight the unifying principles of the BF & M, while allowing for diversity among Southern Baptists.  It also seeks the fulfillment of John 13:33-34 in the SBC.  Talk about your Great Commission Resurgence!  If we would come closer to fulfilling our Lord’s command to love one another, our GCR would be overwhelmingly successful as the Spirit of God would stir the hearts of unbelievers all around us.  And until we have obeyed the second great command of loving our neighbor as ourselves, we cannot say that we are obeying the first great command.

It is my prayer that The Ephesians 4 Project: A Call for SBC Unity will contribute to the unity of Southern Baptists under the core articles of our faith while urging us to an "agree-to-disagree" status on matters of lesser importance.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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